The Cal Poly men's soccer team's season gets underway Thursday, with players reporting for their first practice just two days after the abrupt resignation of veteran head coach Paul Holocher.
"I think it took everyone by surprise," said second-year assistant Phil Ruskin, who was named interim coach following Monday's news. "The timing is such that ... it was not expected. It was certainly a surprise to the staff and to the players."
Holocher walked away from the Mustangs after eight years at the helm to take a job in Hawaii, helping close friend Brent Nunes run the Maui United Soccer Club.
"Cal Poly is going to be fine."
Holocher said he had been traveling to Maui for several years to help run various camps and clinics, and that he had been in talks with Nunes about the direction of the club.
"I always thought I'd go out there, and this is the right time," said Holocher, who will assume the role of director in development for the club that trains players from ages 4-18.
"I've been thinking about it for a while, and the timing was right for it."
But back on the mainland, the Mustangs are left without a coach who transformed a program into one of the national leaders in attendance and a participant in the 2008 NCAA Tournament.
Holocher went 72-60-25 at Cal Poly following a seven-year stint at UC Santa Cruz. He said he's excited for the opportunity to build a larger soccer foundation and to move to Hawaii with his wife and two sons.
"I have the opportunity, with Brent, to make a lasting impact on a whole state," he said.
"The thing I'm most proud of [with the Mustangs] is what we gave to the community and what they gave us. There was an outflow of energy and of love that's going to continue."
Cal Poly announced that men's soccer head coach Paul Holocher resigned. Asst. Phil Ruskin named interim head coach: http://t.co/WH9J6JO9uj— Cal Poly Athletics (@CPMustangs) August 12, 2014
There's bound to be an immediate impact in San Luis Obispo, and Ruskin remained upbeat about the challenges ahead.
"I don't know that there's ever really a good time," Ruskin said of the news. "The most important thing is that we continue to go forward."
It's been a trying month for the team, as Ruskin said goalkeeping coach Luis Trejo is leaving for another opportunity in San Jose, and promising sophomore-to-be Ari Lassiter signed a professional contract with GAIS in Sweden.
"We certainly are sorry to lose Ari," Ruskin said. "He added a lot to our program ... but he had a chance to further his career in the pros, which is not available to every player."
Ruskin said he is closing in on bringing a new goalkeeping coach to join a staff that quickly became very young.
Ruskin spent a combined four years as an assistant at Stony Brook and Valparaiso following a career at Division III Elmhurst that ended in 2008. The other two staff members are Brian Cronin, a 2008 Chapman graduate and first-year director of operations, and Scott Williams, a 2011 Westmont graduate and second-year volunteer assistant.
"I'm optimistic," Ruskin said. "This is a great opportunity for the three of us."
Ruskin said he is not aware when or if the interim tag will be removed, or if a new head coach hiring is immanent.
"My main focus is to prepare this team for the preseason and" the Aug. 23 exhibition at Cal, he said. "I'm not concerned with what comes next. All I'm concerned about it doing this job to the best of my abilities."